PHL airs ‘some concern’ over PLA’s military drills in South China Sea

THE Philippine government expressed “concern” on Friday over China’s conduct of military exercises in the waters off the Paracels, which are claimed by Vietnam, and reminded its Asian neighbor to respect the freedom of navigation of other countries.

In a video statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) military exercises are being held in the waters off what China calls Xisha and Nansha islands, on July 1 to 5, as posted in “Navigation Notice 0069” dated June 27. Manila reminded Beijing to stick to their coordinates so that they will not “impinge” on Philippine territory.

“Should the exercise spill over to Philippine territory, then China is forewarned that it will be met with the severest response, diplomatic and whatever else is appropriate,” warned Foreign Affairs Secretary, Teodoro Locsin Jr. in the  video statement.

Quoting the post on China’s maritime safety administration website, Locsin noted with concern that, “For this period, no vessel will be allowed to navigate within the prescribed area [of the PLA exercises], and all vessels shall have to follow the guidance of the commanding Chinese ship on the site.”

The exercises, Locsin noted, are being held in the Paracels, “over which Vietnam claims sovereignty.”

He said the Philippines had previously protested the establishment of districts Xisha and Nansha under the administrative jurisdiction of Sansha city. “The creation of Sansha city is null and void ab initio for being devoid of basis in international law,” he added.

He added, “this is the problem with playing fast and loose with historical narratives and historical names. They open themselves to error unless the real purpose is to excuse unchallenged mistakes that may over time harden into rights.”

He continued, “Unless again, the purpose is to establish a perennial and unchallenged presence that may in time congeal into rights.”

According to the former lawmaker and Harvard-trained lawyer, China is just as entitled as any other power to invoke freedom of navigation in its military exercises, but cautioned that that “freedom requires a straight and uninterrupted voyage.”

 Locsin added that at a time like this — when the world is struggling to put out a pandemic — one would hope that “simulated military exercises would be more in keeping with the spirit of cooperation that China has encouraged everyone to take.”

He said the Philippines continues to look to China as its nearest and biggest trading partner. Locsin added that former US National Security Adviser, Gen. Herbert Macmaster, had told him, “if China’s mercantilist economic policy allows it to use trade and investment in the mutual interest, then China’s participation is essential to the success of any post-Covid recovery of our national, regional and the global economy.”

 He cited China’s success in the creation of an “800-million middle class that is still growing.”

In closing, Locsin repeated previous reminders that Manila had aired each time there is an issue involving claimants in the South China Sea. All parties, he said, are being urged “to refrain from escalating tension and abide by their responsibilities under international law, notably Unclos,” or the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, where China is a signatory.

He further urged China to adhere to the rule of law and its commitment to international instruments such as the 2002 declaration of the conduct of the parties in the South China Sea.

Of particular importance, the DFA chief said, is “the exercise of self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect the stability especially in this pandemic.”

He said “the Philippines has consistently protested violations of international legal obligations and commitments, and strongly condemned the conduct of such activities in areas of the South China Sea within the Philippines’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdictions, including waters off the Kalayaan islands and the Scarborough shoal.”

Following the 36th Asean summit hosted by Hanoi on Friday (June 26), Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who chaired the meeting, emphasized “the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states … that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.”

The U.S. also conducted a bilateral exercise with Japan; and Singapore’s navy conducted training drills with the USand Japan in the South China Sea on June 17 and June 22, respectively.

The deployment of warships to disputed islets and rocks in the region raises concerns over the ongoing militarization of the South China Sea.



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